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Cancellations rise with novel coronavirus worries

Off-island school trips halted, Kalaupapa tours suspended to protect elderly patients

Community meetings, off-island school trips and tours to Kalaupapa National Historical Park have been suspended or canceled as officials work to prevent any spread of COVID-19 in public places.

The state Department of Education announced that it was canceling all school and department-related travel to the U.S. Mainland and international destinations, effective today through the rest of the school year.

“In light of the evolving COVID-19 situation, we need to take additional precautionary steps to ensure the health and well-being of our school communities,” DOE Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a letter Wednesday to schools, staff and parents.

Kishimoto said that there were school trips scheduled to leave Hawaii on Wednesday, and that while they wouldn’t be impacted by the new restrictions, “parents have the right to modify their travel plans accordingly.” Parents were asked to notify their child’s school immediately and were reminded that travel costs may not be reimbursable.

“We understand the financial hardship this will potentially cause, and we encourage families, schools and complex areas to discuss the possibility of rescheduling or reimbursement with their travel partners (i.e. travel agents, airlines and accommodations) to the extent possible,” Kishimoto said.

“We did not make this decision lightly knowing the impact it will have on our school communities; however, the safety of our students and staff is our highest priority.”

Kishimoto said DOE-related COVID-19 updates are available at hawaiipublicschools.org.

Ceremonies that were supposed to be held at the State Capitol honoring educators, including a Maui teacher and librarian, were also postponed over COVID-19 concerns.

The Senate and House Education Committee chairs, Oahu Sen. Michelle Kidani and Central Maui Rep. Justin Woodson, announced Wednesday that Education Week, set to run Monday through March 20, will be postponed.

“We are acting on the side of precaution to ensure that we take the necessary steps to minimize the risks that come with being in a high-traffic environment,” Woodson said in a statement.

Kidani added that there are no cases at the Capitol but that lawmakers were following the state Department of Health’s recommendation of “social distancing.”

“We’re sincerely sorry that our well-deserving educators and students will not receive the Senate recognition they deserve at this time,” Kidani said. “All Senate floor presentations are postponed until further notice.”

Jessica Adkins, the Maui District’s Baldwin-Kekaulike-Maui Complex Teacher of the Year, and Jessica Gleason of Wailuku Public Library, who received the 2019 Librarian of the Year award, were both scheduled to be honored during Education Week.

In Maui County, boards and commissions began to cancel meetings or advise residents to watch from home.

The Cost of Government Commission meeting scheduled to begin at 10:15 a.m. today at the mayor’s conference room in the county building has been canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, Chairman Michael Williams said.

“We will re-evaluate the risks in April. I hope the mayor and governor find ways that allow boards and commissions to meet via internet video conferencing,” Williams said in a email Wednesday afternoon.

Today’s meeting was supposed to include a presentation from the Maui Visitors Bureau. Two members of the commission are examining Maui County’s annual grant to the bureau, which is $3 million in the current fiscal year.

Williams, who is also the president of the Maui Tomorrow board of directors, said that the board will meet today using Zoom, a web-based video conferencing service, instead of gathering in person.

Meanwhile, members of the public concerned about attending Maui County Council meetings in light of the novel coronavirus are encouraged to provide testimony via email and watch the meetings online or on TV.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said Wednesday afternoon that people can still testify in person and attend the meetings, but she encouraged remote participation for those who have concerns and may be elderly or have underlying medical conditions.

In a news release, Lee said that public testimony submitted by email, fax or letter is given the same consideration as testimony provided in person.

For information on the council’s agendas, video streams and news and information on how to provide testimony remotely, visit mauicounty.us. Meetings are also available on Akaku’s Channel 53, its Government & Public Affairs channel.

Telephone testimony is available at the Hana, Molokai and Lanai district council services offices and will continue to be available there, Lee said. That system has already been in place for several years.

Also postponed due to health concerns and travel limitations is a meeting on wildfire solutions that was scheduled from April 14 to 17 at the Royal Lahaina Resort.

A new meeting date will be announced when participation and travel are both safe and permitted by the participating agencies and entities, a news release said.

“Shared Solutions: A Combined Wildfire Meeting,” would have brought together the California, Nevada and Hawaii Forest Fire Council and Hawaii’s wildfire partners.

Organizers reminded participants to cancel their travel reservations, including hotel stays, which will be fully refunded if made at the Royal Lahaina, the news release said.

Those already registered will receive an email confirming the refund on their registration fee, if applicable.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Health also announced that it was temporarily suspending tours to Kalaupapa National Historical Park until April 11 to protect the vulnerable population of patients, mostly elderly survivors of Hansen’s disease.

Mortality rates among elderly COVID-19 patients have proven much higher than the general population, and the department has warned seniors, especially those with underlying health conditions, to take precautions and avoid nonessential travel, including cruises. Neighbor Island residents with appointments on Oahu should consult with their doctors, the department added. Seniors should avoid large crowds, wash their hands often and keep medications and groceries on hand.

For regular updates on the virus from the World Health Organization, visit www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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